Great Western Financial Corp. has firmed up a new top management team by promoting three executives.

The $43.8 billion-asset thrift appointed A. William Schenck 3d head of retail banking, Carl F. Guether chief financial officer, and Michael M. Pappas head of consumer finance.

The three report to John F. Maher, president and chief executive.

Each of the three was made a vice chairman - a title no one else at the company holds. They, along with Mr. Maher and recently hired retail banking specialist Jaynie M. Studenmund, as well as general counsel J. Lance Erikson, make up Great Western's executive management committee.

Based in Chatsworth, Calif., Great Western is the nation's second- largest thrift.

Eugene A. Crane, longtime head of the thrift's real estate and mortgage business, disclosed plans to retire May 31 after 35 years with the company. Mr. Crane, 58, has run the businesses, when their assets totaled $859 million; they have since grown to $35 billion. A replacement for Mr. Crane is being sought.

Mr. Crane said he had wanted to retire last year but was persuaded to stay until key vacancies were filled. That done, he now plans to retire on May 31. Great Western has hired the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to find a replacement.

The management changes began in January, when Mr. Maher, 52, added the title of chief executive, succeeding James F. Montgomery.

Mr. Montgomery last year announced plans to relinquish day-to-day control and the title of chief executive to Mr. Maher, but retained the title of chairman of both the holding company and the thrift subsidiary, Great Western Bank.

When he relinquished the title of chairman of the thrift subsidiary to Mr. Maher, the move was seen as an endorsement of Mr. Maher's performance by the company's board. Mr. Montgomery is expected to remain chairman of the holding company until his contract expires at the end of next year.

Mr. Guether and Mr. Pappas are Great Western veterans. Mr. Guether has been chief financial officer since 1987. Mr. Pappas has run the consumer finance subsidiary, known as Aristar Inc., for Great Western since it was purchased in 1983.

Mr. Schenck is a more recent hire. He joined the company last year from PNC Bank Corp. to lead a drive to make Great Western more like a retail bank, and less like a traditional thrift.

The new real estate head will report to Mr. Schenck, marking a big increase in responsibilities.

Mr. Maher said he was confident that Mr. Schenck was up to overseeing the area. "He's a very competent, professional manager," Mr. Maher said.

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